Colombians, al-Qaida create ‘unholy’ alliance
Terror group helps FARC rebels smuggle cocaine into Europe, DEA says
BOGOTA, Colombia - Colombian guerrillas have entered into "an unholy alliance" with Islamic extremists who are helping the Marxist rebels smuggle cocaine through Africa on its way to European consumers, a U.S. official told Reuters.
Interdiction efforts have made it more difficult to send cocaine straight from Colombia and other Andean producer nations to the United States and Europe.
So criminal organizations including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are going through Africa to access the European market. And they are doing it with the help of al-Qaida and other groups branded terrorists by Washington, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
"In the mid to late 1990s when the Europeans became better at maritime interdiction, off the coasts of Portugal and Spain for example, traffickers started moving their routes southward. So the next progression was to Western Africa," said Jay Bergman, DEA director for the Andean region of South America.
Three West African men accused of ties to al-Qaida were extradited to New York in December on drug trafficking and terrorism charges.
It was the first time U.S. authorities established a link suggesting al-Qaida is funding itself in part by providing security for drug smugglers in West Africa.
"As suggested by the recent arrest of three alleged al-Qaida operatives, the expansion of cocaine trafficking through West Africa has provided the venue for an unholy alliance between South American narco-terrorists and Islamic extremists," Bergman said in an interview over the weekend.
To reach the U.S. market, Colombian smugglers are meanwhile being driven to use disposable, fiberglass submarines. The homemade craft are constructed in the mangroves of Colombia's Pacific coast, used to carry drugs to Mexico for transshipment to the United States, then sunk.
All big Colombian trafficking groups, including the 45-year-old FARC, are using Africa to reach European cocaine consumers while Mexican cartels import chemicals used to make methamphetamine via the same route, Bergman said.
"For trafficking organizations to survive, they first and foremost have to be flexible and make adjustments quickly to law enforcement efforts," he added.